BEST BETS: Michael Jr. takes comedy to church

Comedian Michael Jr. will perform Saturday night at 7 at Calvary Church in Dover. (Submitted photo)

If you’ve been told it’s impolite to laugh in church, you may be convinced otherwise as standup comedian Michael Jr. brings his family-friendly act to Calvary Church in Dover Saturday night.

Covering such topics wide-ranging as the pressures of being Jesus’ younger brother and those who have been religiously oversaved to the mall and growing up poor, the 45-year-old Grand Rapids, Michigan native has been seen on “The Tonight Show,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live” at national comedy clubs and yes, churches.

“We’ve always been told that churches are supposed to be these sacred, spooky places. But we also refer to God as the Father and the church as his house and what good father doesn’t want his children to laugh in his house,” he said last week by phone.

He got his first taste of comedy at 17 when he got up in front of an audience at a movie theater after the projector broke.

“I don’t even recall what the movie was. Actually my stomach was cramped up but I realize now it was just a yearning to do more of that. I didn’t realize it then but it was just so overwhelming. It’s like someone showed a football player a football game for the first time. It was like ‘Wow, what is this?’” he said.

It was until a few years later when he was working at a gas station in Grand Rapids that the possibility of making people laugh for a living entered his mind.

“A guy came and asked one of my co-workers how to get to The Comedy Inn. He said that he was one of the comedians. It sounds weird to say but it didn’t dawn on me that a comedian was a regular person. I thought a comedian was someone who you would only see on TV, not as a regular human,” he said.

After he got off work, he went down to the club.

“That dude from the gas station comes out and that same dude was now on stage making people laugh with regular stories. And I remember thinking ‘I got stories like that,” Michael Jr. said.

“That moment I started thinking maybe I could do that.”

His career took off after fellow comedian George Wallace took him to the prestigious Comedy and Magic Club in California where Jay Leno regularly appears. The owner booked him to appear on stage and people from “The Tonight Show” soon took notice.

“NBC was doing a special for a comedy festival that they have in Canada and they were looking for someone who would appear from the festival by satellite on ‘The Tonight Show.’ They had it down to three people and the owner of the comedy club said ‘You should come down. You could at least compete,’” he recalled.

“I remember being in the green room and there being 11 comedians and no one wanted to go on first. They ended up picking me. The producer said of all the comedians I had the most (punch lines) in the four and a half minutes that they give you. Jay had me on again after that.”

Being a clean comedian has allowed Michael Jr. to work at various venues throughout his career.

“I’ve always been able to cross over to different genres. If something is funny, I think it’s funny across the board as opposed to some things are only funny to certain sectors. I try to recognize the fact that I don’t know who is in the audience. I just know they need to laugh so I try to keep it where everyone can laugh,” he said.

He says the show that he will do Saturday at Calvary Church is the same type of show he would do at a comedy club.

“A lot of what I do is improv and that’s all subject to that specific audiences. I can do one show at a church and then do a second show at the same church and it will change but only because of the audience,” he said.

“I don’t have a club version of my show and a church version. That’s not the case at all. Any comedy that I do has to be clean enough that I can do it at a church. Any comedy I do in a church has to be funny enough that I can do it at a club.”

His career took a defining turn the first time he was asked to do his routine in a church.

“This pastor asked ‘Hey, do you want to do comedy in my church? I thought ‘Is that even legal?’” he joked.

“He had seen me before and just said ‘Why don’t you do three minutes based on what I’m going to talk about. I remember people laughed. My comedy was already clean and it started to make sense to perform there.”

Dealing a lot with the tricky subject of religion can sometimes be a comedic tightrope for Michael Jr.

“I literally have an Excel spreadsheet where I keep all my jokes. And when I say them out loud, I run them back through a filter and say ‘Would I say these things in front of my kids? Is this going to lift them up or tear them down?’ If it’s a tear down, I pull it out. There are jokes that I do that some Christians or churches think may be a little on the line,” he said.

“When I have one of those jokes, I’ll say a little prayer and say ‘Yo God, is this cool?’ and then I’ll feel like he’ll say it’s OK. But if not, I’m cool with releasing jokes and not doing them anymore because I know something funnier will come along.”

He does have a trick when it comes to some of those riskier jokes.

“If I’m in a church and I see what I call some Pharisees who think that because you’re in a church, you’re not supposed to laugh, I’ll purposely do some stuff that may rub them the wrong way up front. They’ll tighten up their arms even more because I’ve confirmed in their own mind what they are already thinking,” he said.

“Then I’ll share with them how we go to prisons and homeless shelters and how we did a comedy show for a boy who was abused by his mom and how the boy laughed. Now those same people have tears in their eyes and they have to review in their own mind what comedy can do for people.”

Along with doing standup comedy, the married father of five children has been seen in the film “War Room,” he’s working on a book and he’s currently filming the movie “Selfie Dad.”

“We have a nice amount of TV and movie offers coming in and I want to be as strategic as I can. Any way to multiply what I’m doing and the effect on the people that it’s reaching is definitely the goal,” he said.

“My family comes way before my comedy. So ultimately it would be great to strategically choose where I go so I can bring the whole family with me.”

Tickets for Michael Jr.’s “Bringin’ The Funny” show are $34.50 to $18.50 can be obtained by visiting calvarydover.org. Calvary Church is at 1141 East Lebanon Road, Dover.

Kristen and the Noise

The popular band Kristen and the Noise will play the Smyrna Opera House tonight at 8:30.

Along with lead singer Kristen McGee, the band is comprised of an experienced group of players featuring Pete Ahern on bass and vocals, Jordan Demarest on guitar and vocals, Chris Bones on drums, and Uriah Moore on keyboard.

Kristen and The Noise

The band is a favorite in local beach clubs, private parties, and weddings from Cape Cod to Alexandria, Va.

They cover top 40 pop, r&b, oldies, classics, rock and hip-hop.

Tickets are $20 and can be purchased by calling 302-653-4236, online at www.smyrnaoperahouse.org, or at the Smyrna Opera House box office from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The Smyrna Opera House is at 7 W. South St, in Smyrna.

Two new exhibits at Biggs

Today, the Biggs Museum of American Art will open two exhibitions which celebrate the work of many artists around Delaware: “Delaware Watercolor Society Juried Exhibition” and “Delaware By Hand Masterworks Exhibition.”

Today from 5 to 7 p.m., the public is invited to meet the artists from both exhibitions in an opening reception at the Biggs Museum. Refreshments will be provided.

In partnership with the Delaware Watercolor Society, the Biggs Museum will exhibit watercolor paintings by this group’s best and brightest from around the state. Over 50 works will be featured within the Biggs Museum, and many will be for sale.

Every three years, the Biggs Museum hosts a juried competition of its Delaware By Hand artist membership in order to select individual artists that are deemed masters of their craft. Exhibited works will include a wide range of mediums.

Additionally, to celebrate the DBH Masterworks Exhibition, the Biggs Museum will host a Delaware By Hand Fall Maker’s Market today from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. A variety of Delaware By Hand artist members of the Biggs Museum will be on hand to sell their handmade wares.

The Biggs Museum is at 406 Federal St., Dover.

‘Joyful Art of the Holidays’

The Holly Branch American Pen Women presents “Joyful Art of the Holidays,” a juried and judged art and literary exhibit.

The show runs from today until Jan 6 at the Dover Public Library, 35 Loockerman Plaza, Dover. The reception will be Nov. 12 from 1 to 4 p.m.

Intake and judging of art works will be Saturday.

Entry fees are: $20 for up to three entries and $40 for up to five entries.

Contact Linda Medunick for more information at 302-270-2623.

Now Showing

New this weekend in theaters is “Thor: Ragnarok” and the comedy sequel “A Bad Moms Christmas.”

On DVD and download starting Tuesday is the animated “Cars 3” and Woody Harrelson in the drama “The Glass Castle.”

To share news of your entertainment venue, group or event, contact Craig Horleman at 741-8224 or chorl@newszap.com.

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com

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